Something Unusual From EAA Chapter 74 And The Tuskegee
By ANN Special Contributor Amy Laboda
On a steamy, hot morning at Orlando
Executive Airport's Shelt Air FBO hangar, more than 120 youths and
their adult supervisors, parents and friends turned out for a rare
(for Florida) summer Young Eagles Day. EAA Chapter 74 and the
Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., jointly sponsored the special rally, which
served as a special kick-off to this week's 34th Annual Tuskegee
Airmen's National Convention.
Before the flight rally, visitors were treated to a deluxe EAA
Chapter pancake breakfast, ushered in by a Junior ROTC Color Guard
presentation, followed by a Tuskegee Airmen primer from one of
their own, Airman Hiram Mann. Chapter 74 President Glenn Ball also
formally welcomed attendees.
Fantasy of Flight Museum owner and founder Kermit Weeks, (also
an EAA Board member) flew in with his rare P-51C "Red Tail," an
original Tuskegee Airmen fighter. With ORL tower-cooperation, Weeks
performed a series of flybys for the appreciative crowd.
EAA Chapter 74 Young Eagles Coordinator Eric Von said that the
day went off mostly without a hitch. "We had 17 pilots and 15
aircraft originally scheduled to fly," he said. "One person was a
no-show, and one (plane) was a no-op before we commenced the first
round of dispatches."
When one pilot arrived late, one of the Tuskegee Airmen who
regularly flies Young Eagles in other locations stepped up to
volunteer his flight skills. It only took two and a half hours to
fly all 120 youngsters.
Tuskegee Airman Hiram Mann in front of the P-51C, painted in the
familiar Red Tail scheme of Lt. Col. Lee “Buddy”
Archer, who was the only Tuskegee pilot to shoot down five enemy
aircraft in World War II.
The Tuskegee Airmen were some 450 African American pilots who
trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field, Alabama, during World War II.
They served overseas in the 99th Pursuit Squadron (later the 99th
Fighter Squadron) or the 332nd Fighter Group. In April 1944, the
332nd transferred to the Adriatic Sea side at Ramitelli Air Strip,
near Foggia, Italy, and began conducting long-range heavy bomber
escort missions for the 15th Strategic Air Force.
In July 1944, the 99th Fighter Squadron was transferred to
Ramitelli and the Group became the only four-squadron fighter group
performing bomber escort missions in the 15th Air Force. There they
established the incredible and unprecedented record of flying all
of their bomber escort missions (200 over most of central and
southern Europe) without the loss of a single bomber to enemy
aircraft. They also happened to be the only all-African American
fighter squadrons in World War II.
Each of these exceptionally dedicated airmen accepted the
challenge of becoming fighter pilots despite having to put up with
extreme prejudice at home and overseas. They fought two wars-one
against a military force overseas and the other against racism at
home and abroad. In 1948, the President Truman ended segregation in
the military and kicked-off the Civil Rights Movement.